Education specialist from Laos: More ‘public servant than celebrity’

07/04/2013 7:22 AM

08/06/2014 2:19 AM

If you live in Wichita and haven’t heard of Minh Peng, you’re either not a member of the Asian community or haven’t had many dealings with the Asian population here.

Otherwise, you’d likely know Peng, a Laos native whose command of English eased her own transition here along with countless others.

“My daughter always (says) that I’m the local Asian celebrity in town,” Peng said. “I feel like I’m more of a public servant than celebrity. … Helping people is really a passion because of what I’ve been through, and so I can relate well to people.”

Peng’s family had to escape Laos in 1975 because her father assisted the United States during the Vietnam War.

“It was quite an adventure,” Peng said of the journey that took her family from Laos to Thailand to the Philippines to Guam to California and, finally, to Wichita.

They came “because of the freedom and opportunity” and eventually became U.S. citizens. It wasn’t easy, though.

“It was kind of chaotic,” Peng said. So was her adjustment to life here.

“It was a lot of shock,” she said of “learning how everything works.”

Teachers at her elementary school tapped Peng to help with other students for whom English wasn’t their native language.

As an adult, Peng’s work at a bank led her to the accounting department for the county’s mental health unit, which today is known as Comcare. She then was recruited to help in Comcare’s social health field, specifically with other immigrants. Peng has been with Comcare for 21 years and today is an education specialist.

Peng also does contract work for the Patterson Legal Group and volunteers with a number of charities.

“I do a lot of interpreting in the community,” she said.

Peng helps ease the transition for new residents and assists others to become citizens. She also helps people who are struggling to assimilate or navigate local or national laws.

“It takes approximately four to five years for a person to really comprehend how things work here,” Peng said.

She regularly gets stopped by people seeking help.

“It’s such a small community that they will call my mother,” Peng said of people looking for her.

She’s considered starting her own company to formalize the help.

“I have a lot of offers,” Peng said. “People do want me to have my own office.”

So far, she’s resisted.

“I want to focus mainly in helping people,” Peng said. “It’s not about who I’m employed with.”

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